India’s Modi was an over-sharing politician. Now he’s a silent prime minister.


Narendra Modi waves to supporters. (Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

"You campaign in poetry, but govern in prose" goes a well-known saying by Mario Cumo, the New York politician.

In India, leaders campaign in talk mode, but they prefer to govern in silent mode.

For years, former prime minister Manmohan Singh was bitterly attacked for being too silent, a trait that eventually became a metaphor for his ineffective leadership. Many called his 10-year rule "a decade of official silence."

But it was going to be vastly different with the new prime minister, Narendra Modi.

India's newly sworn-in Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets with his Pakistani counterpart, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. (Reuters)

During his four-month-long campaign this year, Modi spoke breathlessly on almost every national and local issue. He gave stump speeches, blogged, tweeted, Facebooked. India's youths had finally found in the 63-year old Modi a leader fit for a generation of over-sharers and hyper-communicators.

Now journalists, political pundits and opposition politicians have begun asking why Modi has gone silent. What happened to the promise of a leader who weighed in on every issue that consumed the nation?

"Narendra Modi brought with him the promise of a leader who will not be a mute spectator," the Headlines Today channel said last month. "Is silence going to be the norm when it comes to complex issues like crimes against women?"

"Why has our current prime minister, who is a 24x7 communicator, suddenly fallen silent on matters that are making front-page news, have been headlined in the international press, and have worked the Twitterati up into a tizzy?" wrote Caravan magazine.

The Business Standard newspaper called it "Narendra Modi: Silent PM 2.0?"

Modi was silent when Indian construction workers were kidnapped by Islamist militants in Iraq; when a young Muslim techie was killed by a Hindu mob angry over a derogatory Facebook post; when Hindu nationalist leader Praveen Togadia gave an open "warning" to Muslims this week to fall in line; he has been silent on price rise; and he has been especially silent on the spate of rape incidents being reported across India.

Instead, he gives long speeches on his vision for the nation — when he inaugurates a train line or attends the launch of a space rocket.

Even as he encourages his colleagues in the government to open Twitter accounts to disseminate official news, he has put a gag on them. He has instructed them not to speak to reporters out of turn, to be wary of sting operations and not allow anyone into their offices with cellphones or cameras, or even pens.

He has also ended a political culture in which prime ministers took large contingents of journalists with them on foreign trips.

The result is "a virtual news drought for 24x7 media," complain local journalists.

"All the officers are under strict orders ... not to have any connection with media," Kumar Ketkar, a political commentator, blogged Tuesday on NDTV.com, a 24x7 news Web site. Calling it a "Gestapo-style" vigil, he said, there is "constant surveillance of the offices to keep tab on who meets whom and to check on whether ministers are spending evenings at social parties."

Rama Lakshmi has been with The Post's India bureau since 1990. She is a staff writer and India social media editor for Post World.
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